SJ Bradley steps down as director of the Northern Short Story Festival

Dear Friends of the Northern Short Story Festival,

After five years at the helm, I’ve recently made the decision to step down as director and programmer of the Northern Short Story Festival.

In 2015, I saw the need for the North to have a festival celebrating this precise form. Our region was and is full of excellent shortform writers, and the excellent presses who publish them. My aim was always to develop a festival that could only happen in Yorkshire: culturally Northern, outward-looking to the world, affordable and accessible; a festival which was representative of the city’s population, and which brought great literature to the city at affordable prices.

The NoShoSto, as it is affectionately known, has a year-round programme, and provides an infrastructure that removes barriers and gives meaningful help to writers based in the region. These are grassroots-level events, accessible to all, introducing new audiences to the short story form and giving opportunities for promotion and development for existing authors and presses. During the past five years we’ve run a development programme for 12 new writers, the Northern Short Story Festival Academy; a short story reading book club; provided four “Pay What You Feel” Urban Writing Retreats a year, open to all, giving writers on a budget the opportunity to have a days’ writing retreat only a bus ride away, right here in Leeds; writer-in-residency projects in Middleton Park in South Leeds; networking events, book launches, film screenings, contests, and all this on top of bringing world-class authors like Yan Ge, Courttia Newland, Irenosen Okojie, Leone Ross and CG Menon to Leeds at our annual festival and pop-up events. All this on a tiny budget provided to us by arts@Leeds, and with support from our partnership organisations. I am grateful to everybody who’s appeared at the festival, the presses who have supported it, and partnership organisations The Walter Swan Trust and Remember Oluwale.

Perhaps due to the scale of the festival, its ambition, and the number of events involved, the amount of work involved in running it has increasingly become a challenge. A lot goes on behind the scenes. Things like completing paperwork for funding, and safely moving the festival online to respond to the Coronavirus pandemic, have taken up ever more amounts of my time and energy. Audience, presses and partners always comment on how well the festival is organised, how supportive it is, how friendly. So much work goes into doing everything involved – communicating, liaising, thinking ahead, planning, budgeting – and all of the work I do on the festival is voluntary, and happens on top of my day job, my family and social life, running Fictions of Every Kind, and my own writing.

Earlier on this year, I was furloughed from my day job for a few months. For the first time ever, I had a serious amount of time and effort to spend on my writing, without having to worry about how I’d earn enough money to support it. Five days a week were spent writing, editing, coming up with ideas. I went on a virtual ‘writing retreat’ and fully absorbed myself in reading fiction, and watching plays on telly. For somebody who’s spent years producing short stories and novels written in the hours before going to work, or on one memorable occasion shivering in the “best room” at 7 a.m. at my in-laws’ house on Christmas Day morning, this concentrated period of time was a revelation. What it made me realise was that I shouldn’t divide my attention any more.

I’ve spent many years devoting time and attention to ensuring that opportunities exist for other writers, and that we celebrate Northern presses. I really am proud of the festival and what it has achieved during my five years as director, but now it’s time for me to be selfish. I want to say thank you to Fiona Gell who runs Leeds Big Bookend, and the many people who have supported the Northern Short Story Festival during my time as director, too many of you to name individually. My thanks especially go out to the arts@leeds scheme and to our volunteers, without whom the festival could never have existed. Similarly, if you’ve appeared at the festival as an author, worked on one of our projects, or bought tickets to one of our events, thank you!

I believe that Fiona will continue to run short story events as part of Leeds Big Bookend and I look forward to seeing how the festival develops and changes in the future.

SJ Bradley